‘I fell asleep’ admits second mate in 100,000 litre fuel spill off B.C.’s coast

Nathan E. Stewart ran aground near Bella Bella in 2016

The second mate falling asleep while on watch was the likely cause behind the Nathan E. Stewart sinking off B.C.’s north coast last year, according to the Transportation Safety Board.

In an incident brief released this week, the board said the second mate had fallen asleep shortly before the tug crashed on Oct. 13, 2016.

The Nathan E. Stewart ran aground on a reef in the Seaforth Channel near Bella Bella, spilling approximately 110,000 litres of diesel and another 2,000 litre of lubricants into the water and causing an estimated $12 million in damage to the tug and the barge it was towing.

READ: Renewed calls for tanker ban after large diesel spill near Bella Bella

According to the report, the Kirby Corporation-owned vessel ran aground just past 1 a.m. on Oct. 13, only slightly over two hours after the second mate had taken over steering the tug from the captain.

Typically, the second mate worked the midnight to 4 a.m. shift but had started an hour early at 11 p.m.

Based on the last steering instructions inputed, the second mate fell asleep sometime after 12:24 a.m.

“According to the captain, approximately an hour or an hour and a half after the grounding, the second mate admitted, “I fell asleep,” during a discussion with him about the accident,” the report reads.

The second mate later admitted this to investigators but said he felt he had had “adequate” rest in the days leading up to the accident, despite losing an hour of sleep that night.

READ: B.C. ‘cheated’ on spill response, Clark says

The report also pointed out that the crew was not following its own safety policy which required a second person on watch in the wheelhouse with the second mate.

“There is no evidence indicating that a second watchstander was ever present on the bridge with the second mate,” the report reads.

The vessel was equipped with a cross-track error alarm function, which would alert its operator if the tug’s GPS position deviated from its route. When triggered, the system would sound an alarm and display a secondary route from its new, current position, allowing the vessel to get back on track.

The second mate last adjusted the tug’s course at 12:24 a.m. At 12:53 a.m., he should have adjusted it again – but he didn’t, something that would have triggered an alarm had the cross-track alarm system been operation.

However, the second mate did not switch on the cross-track alarm the night of the accident and told investigators that it was “normal practice for the navigation team to not utilize that tool.”

Instead, sensing something amiss, a tankerman attempted to radio the second mate twice at about 1 a.m., before heading up to the wheelhouse to see what was going on.

He never made it and felt what he later described as “shuddering.”

When he radioed the second mate for the third time, he was told that the tug had grounded at 1:08 a.m. after having continued on autopilot since the second mate last changed its course at 12:24 a.m.

According to the Heiltsuk Nation, which fishes in the waters nearby, the Nathan E Stewart sank by the next morning. It was brought up and out of the water in mid-November 2016.

Last month, the Heiltsuk Nation said it would be taking Kirby to court because it has been denied answers about what happened during the spill, which “continues to be a catastrophic injury to our food sources, culture, and economy.”


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

On Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, the day before Aldergrove’s Madison Lewis turns one, family and friend will celebrate by attending a blood donor drive in her honour. (Courtesy Lewis Family)
A happy birthday blood donor clinic for a one-year-old open heart surgery patient in Aldergrove

Family wanted to give back after child received blood and blood products that helped save her life

The two sites in question included a number of commercial buildings, some of them currently boarded up. (Langley Advance Times files)
Deal to add Fort Langley land to Kwantlen reserve called off

Elders and a land advisory group within the KFN opposed the project

The RCMP helicopter. (File photo)
Suspect escapes after police pursuit through Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford

Police chase involved two stolen vehicles, including one taken in Mission

Dwain and Lillian Seymour discovered their Murrayville home was listed for rent without their knowledge as part of a scam. (Langley Advance Times/file)
Guilty plea in Langley rent fraud case

Arrested man admits to 14 criminal counts

Police boats were called in to search the Fraser River after a report that a plane had crashed where the river runs between Langley and Maple Ridge. (Shane MacKichan/Special to The News)
Investigation enters final phase, missing aircraft last seen over Fraser River

Small aircraft was carrying a student and instructor on June 6

Mary Foote (right) took part in the Gutsy Walk in August 2020 at the age of 104. She was joined by son in-law Clarence and daughter Edith Olson. (family photo)
Langley woman turns 105 on Oct. 25

In August, Mary Foote took part in the Gutsy Walk to battle Crohn’s and Colitis

With local MLA Adam Olsen looking on, BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau said a Green government would convert BC Ferries into a Crown corporation Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Green leader Sonia Furstenau promises to convert BC Ferries back into Crown corporation

Promise comes Monday afternoon with five days left in campaign

IIO Chief Civilian Director Ron MacDonald. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Police watchdog concludes Mounties didn’t shoot Surrey teen at strip mall

IIO finds tragic death of teenager ‘not the result of any actions or inactions’ by the Surrey RCMP

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

Emergency crews shut down White Rock’s Five Corners district on Feb. 19, 2020 after an altercation left an elderly man in critical condition. (File photo)
Trial dates set in White Rock manslaughter case

Proceedings against Ross Banner, 71, set for June 2021 in Surrey Provincial Court

The many faces of Daon Glasgow. (Photos: Surrey RCMP)
Glasgow found not guilty of trying to murder transit cop in Surrey

Transit Police Constable Josh Harms was shot Jan. 30, 2019 at Scott Road SkyTrain Station

Most Read